Tonight's matchup features two undefeated teams in a national televised
contest. That almost sounds like a big game until you realize that the
opponent is Army, their victories are over New Hampshire and the Coast Guard
Academy, and the game is being broadcast on HTS. Duke has been played Coach
K's alma mater three out of the last four years and the closest game was a
78-45 game played at West Point in 1997. In the other two games Duke posted
home court victories of 100-38 and 100-42. The first contest in the series
was a particularly physical affair as Cadets tried to hang with Duke.
As expected, Duke will have a huge advantage on the interior. Under any
circumstances Army would be considered undersized coming into a game against
a top 25 team. The situation is even worse this year for the Cadets as 6-9
center and two-time letterman Matt Rutledge is academically ineligible for
the first semester. As a result, Army's starting frontcourt usually features
three players in the 6-5 to 6-6 range.
6-6 senior Seth Barrett was injured and missed Army's opening victory over
the Coast Guard but came back to post 17 points against New Hampshire. Dax
Pearson who is the team's leading rebounder and third leading scorer joins
him in the frontcourt. Filling out the rotation up front for the Cadets are
6-5 Joe Clark and 6-6 Jonte Harrell a junior out of Charlotte.
The starting guards are a pair of brothers out of Babylon, NY. Freshman J.P.
Spatola was named the Patriot League Rookie of the Week last week and is the
team's leading distributor with 5 assists per game. He's a good outside
shooter hitting 50% of his three point shots and has yet to miss from the
free throw line this season. His older brother Chris Spatola is the biggest
offensive threat on the team. He is hitting 70% from the three point line
which accounts for the majority of his 20.5 point average. Like his little
brother he is a great free throw shooter with a 93% average. The Spatolas
are an Army man's version of Penn State's Crispen brothers. While they may
be overmatched against quicker guards they can put some points on the board
from the outside. H-O-R-S-E games in the Spatola driveway would be great
entertainment since dad was also a college player at St. John's.
When Army calls up the reserves you'll see sophomore Ray Frederick and
freshman Andy Smith in the game. Frederick is a 5-11 point guard who can
bring some much needed quickness to the team while Smith is a 6-3 combo guard
who will look to score from the outside although he has been struggling with
his shot as of late.
Duke is a team stocked with McDonalds All-Americans playing with an eye
towards a future in professional basketball. Army is a team stocked with
tough kids playing for the love of the game with an eye towards a future in
the Pentagon. You make the call on this one.
Duke will be a tired basketball team having arrived from New York at around 3
AM this morning. Last night's slugfest with Temple really pushed the team to
the limit both physically and emotionally. Don't be surprised if Duke is not
executing as crisply as one would expect against an overmatched foe. While
some may question the logic of scheduling this game on the day after the NIT
finals it does present a great teaching opportunity for the coaching staff.
Coach K will probably try and use this to build the toughness that the team
will need for the stretch run in the tournament when the Devils will be
playing quality opponents with little rest.
Duke should also look to play their bench for extended minutes this evening.
Looming down the road is a matchup with Illinois that promises to be another
battle. Army will provide the opportunity for Duke to rest the primary
players and help develop their backups for the ACC/Big 10 Challenge game.